Assistant Professor Iftikhar Ali
New Wine into Old Wineskins is one of Jesus’s parables but the message it conveys is deep with reference to Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 proposed by the outgoing government of PML(N) in the name of so-called political empowerment and good governance in GB.
On August 28, 2009, “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009” was introduced through which the people of Gilgit-Baltistan could have their own Governor and Chief Minister with some judicial reforms in a province like status while keeping constitutional rights in limbo. However, these reforms were half-heartedly welcomed by the people with aspirations that Governance Order 2009 will be a momentous step towards becoming “complete Pakistani” from “almost Pakistani” in the near future. However, the GB Order 2018 is the nastiest and poorest of all reforms packages introduced since 1947 and like the Jesus’s parable, the people are to say “The Old is Better” based on the flaws and contradictory provisions of the New Order.
Thanks to the members of National Security Council as they have retuned the draft in the meeting held on May 3, 2018 and asked to government to have more consultations with the stakeholders. However, the government is desirous to pass it in haste and it will be presented again on May 14 to get it passed from the cabinet. If this order gets passed in the current shape, it is expected to have severe consequences for both the state, government and the citizens of GB because nobody in GB ready to accept it except some poodles and stooges of the current ruling party. The Speaker of GBLA has repeatedly issued statements that the unanimously passed resolutions by the GBLA be honored which have no effect or reflection on the proposed new order.
Apparently, GB Order 2018 looks like a hurriedly done cut and paste bureaucratic assignment from Constitution of Pakistan and Governance Order 2009. What is new in the ipso facto provisions are such that it has renamed the GB Legislative Assembly into GB Assembly with an additional definition of citizen from GB domicile holders in previous order to GB domicile holders as well as those who hold citizenship under Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951 (II of 1951) which makes every citizen of Pakistan a citizen of GB. Article 5 of the GB Order 2018 requires inviolable obligation of every citizen to remain obedient to the order contrary to Article 5(1) of the CoP which also requires the loyalty with the state. The definition of State under Article 7 of the CoP has been changed as to definition of the Government in the new order which means the “Prime Minister, the Government, the Assembly, and such other local or other authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan as are by law empowered to impose any tax or cess”. Similarly, the powers of State under Article 8(2) of the CoP are transferred to Government under Article 7(2) of GB Order 2018. In both Articles, the Powers and Provisions granted to “State” under CoP are placed under the “Government” in the new order which also reads the mind of the drafting machinery. One can deduce to the fact that the constitutional obligations and responsibilities of state in four provinces of Pakistan are to be performed by the government in GB and citizens of GB are to remain loyal with Government instead of State is something beyond understanding and not acceptable to the inhabitants because the inhabitants of GB have their relationship with the State of Pakistan instead Governments.
Freedom of association cherished in Article 17 of new order contains an additional clause which is not obligatory for the citizens of other constitutional provinces under Article 17 of CoP whereby the persons or political parties of Gilgit-Baltistan are restrained to take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of Pakistan. Once CoP is silent about such a clause, makes it clear to the people of GB that even the fundamental rights granted in the new order are not in consistent with the persons or political parties in other provinces. Article 19 of the CoP deals with the freedom of speech and freedom of press whereas from Article 19 of new order, the phrase “there shall be freedom of press” has been dropped. However, Principles of Policy set out in Chapter 2 of the Part II of CoP are pari passu extended to GB.
What is totally contrary and altra-constitutional is the extent of executive authority of Government in any matter with respect to Prime Minister who has been given His Majestic Powers to make laws whereby the executive authority of the Government shall be subject to, and limited by, the executive authority expressly conferred by this Order or by law made by the Prime Minister. More interesting is the fact that the position of Prime Minister is administrative one and since the new order has abolished the GB Council which was the only forum of communication between the federation and Gilgit-Baltistan accompanied with legislative powers envisaged therein, how come an individual make laws for the who is not questionable to any law and court under this order and who is not chosen by the people and who has no forum of representation from among the people for whom laws are to be made. Under such imperial provisions, the position of Prime Minister for the people of GB gains similar status to the British Crown for their colonial subjects because under the disempowerment Articles 41, 46, 60, 61, 62, 99 and 105 the position of the Prime Minister gains the final authority over the legislative and administrative matters having the Governor, Chief Minister and GB Assembly be subservient to him. Under sub-section 4 of Article 60, “If any provision of an Act of Assembly is repugnant to any provision of any law which the Prime Minister is competent to enact, then the law made by the Prime Minister, whether passed before or after the Act of the Assembly, shall prevail and the Act of the Assembly shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void.”
Other burning and important issues of GB in the recent times are the acquisition of land and imposition of taxes against which massive and unprecedented protests were observed in GB and across Pakistan due to which the government was forced to retreat. These issues were highlighted by Indian media and such other actors who left no stone unturned to damage the image of Pakistan with respect to Gilgit-Baltistan. Under the articles 60(2) and 65, the PM is empowered to levy all taxes in the region as prescribed the third schedule whereas under article 64, “The Government of Pakistan may, if it deems necessary to acquire any land situate in Gilgit-Baltistan for any purpose, require the Government to acquire the land on behalf, and at the expense, of the Government of Pakistan or, if the land belongs to the Government, to transfer it to the Government of Pakistan on such terms as may be agreed mutually.” These clauses are inviting the readymade sentiments to be flare-up once again. The custodians of state must take precautionary notices because the new imperial order adds deprivation to already deprived.
As far Judicature is concerned, apparently no any lawyer from GB can become Judge in the Supreme Appellate Court because the criteria for the appointment Judges. This criterion has already been rejected by the Bar Councils. The Judges of the Supreme Appellate Court are to be appointed by the Prime Minister and they have no authority over the actions and orders of the Prime Minister. Moreover, the judges of the Supreme Appellate Court will not be entitled to pension related benefits.
The legislative list under Part-I of the third schedule enlists 62 subject out of which most of the subjects are beyond capacity and capability of legislation of GB Assembly such as legislation on Nuclear Energy, Air Navigation, terminal taxes on passengers and goods through air and railways, Maritime shipping and navigation, including shipping and navigation on tidal waters, Admiralty jurisdiction, Aircraft and air navigation; the provision of aerodromes; regulations and organization of air traffic and of aerodrome etc. Whereas, Part-II of the legislative list 5 provisions are given for the PM to impose taxes on income, sale and purchase of assets, corporations, import and export, capital gains on immovable property, and taxes on the production capacity of plants. The PM is empowered to impose taxes in consultation with the Governor and CM of GB.
In nutshell, this order has neither honoured the unanimous resolutions passed by Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly nor acknowledged the aspirations and sacrifices of the people of GB. It has only empowered His Majesty Prime Minister to the extent of “Tsar of Gilgit-Baltistan” that even CoP has not empowered him in other provinces. The super patriot inhabitants of GB accept nothing less than full integration with Pakistan and if the full integration otherwise harms the Pakistani stance on Kashmir issue, the people of GB demands nothing less than what India has given to the people of IoK and what Pakistan has given to the People of AJK.
The contributor is an Assistant Professor at Karakoram International University, Gilgit. Contact: email@example.com